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Guadalupe fur seal Gooseneck on an orange heating pad
northern elephant seal

Muscle-Wasting Disease in Elephant Seal Pups

Multifocal Necrotizing Myopathy in Northern Elephant Seal (Mirounga angustirostris) Pups, San Miguel Island, California
  • Pathology


A field study addressing causes of mortality in freshly dead northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris, Gill, 1866) was conducted on San Miguel Island, California, in February 2015. Necropsies were performed on 18 pups ranging in age from stillbirths to approximately 7 to 8 weeks. The primary gross diagnoses in these pups included trauma, myopathy, starvation/emaciation, infections, congenital anomalies, and perinatal mortality. However, 6 (33%) had a previously unrecognized myopathy characterized by multiple white streaks that were most obvious within the inner layer of the abdominal wall and the small innermost ventral intercostal muscles. Following histological examination, 2 more pups from San Miguel Island and 6 pups from The Marine Mammal Center (Sausalito, California) were found to have similar lesions. Histologically, the lesions within the skeletal muscles were characterized by a multifocal polyphasic, mild to severe, acute to subacute necrotizing myopathy with mineralization. Acute necrosis and degeneration characterized by pyknotic nuclei, eosinophilic cytoplasm and cytoplasmic vacuolization were found in smooth muscle myocytes within the urinary bladder and digestive system. Degeneration of myocytes was present in the tunica media of a few small- to medium-sized vessels and was characterized by a vacuolar degeneration and occasionally necrosis. This condition has been termed multifocal necrotizing myopathy. A cause of this myopathy was not identified. 

Spraker, T.R., Kuzmina, T.A., Lyons, E.T., DeLong, R.L., Simeone, C. and Veeramachaneni, D.R., 2019. Multifocal Necrotizing Myopathy in Northern Elephant Seal (Mirounga angustirostris) Pups, San Miguel Island, California. Veterinary pathology, 56 (1, January), pp.143-151.


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